Outdoors editor joins IDNR

February 21, 2014 at 01:33 AM
Mom has pushed me into making a confession.

"Do the other outdoor writers know?" she asked, "that you are a terrible fisherman?"

"No, Mom. But thanks for your support anyway."

Today is my last day at The State Journal-Register, so I suppose this is a good time to get a few things out in the open.

Yes, it's true. I'm probably the worst fisherman ever to write about the outdoors.

Through the years, I explored many facets of the outdoors before finding my real ability was telling others about nature through writing and photography.

I'm leaving the newspaper to take a job as the spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, starting Tuesday. I expect to keep telling stories about the state's hunting and fishing opportunities, conservation efforts, state parks and natural areas in my new job.

I was lucky growing up. My grandpa Stanley and grandma Young patiently took me fishing. Before he would take me ice fishing, my grandfather would ask Mom to keep me at the house for a while so he could catch a fish or two before I came stomping across the ice.

On my own, I caught frogs and collected bugs, rocks and other things. More than a few small critters gave their lives for science.

I have a picture of me with my first butterfly collection. It's a blurry photo but you can clearly see one of the butterflies is a regal fritillary — now listed as a species of concern in Iowa, where I grew up.

I tried to express myself through art, painting ducks and geese, including this painting of mallards flying over grandma Young's pond. One of my classmates, however, was a much better painter and his couch-sized painting of a bighorn sheep on a mountain put mine to shame.

It was clear I'd never see my work on a duck stamp. I finished a distant second in the school competition and turned to photography.

At my first job at the Omaha World-Herald, I was sent to cover the fires in Yellowstone National Park in the late 1980s. As a young photographer, I was eager to get to the front lines where the fires were burning.

Not so fast, said the park ranger, who instead took me to see portions of the park that had burned previously and how they were recovering.

It was my first introduction to conservation, natural processes including fire, and the management of resources.

"No one is telling these stories," I thought.

Eventually, I got my chance when I became the Outdoors editor of The State Journal-Register a little more than a decade ago. I was able to tell stories about nature, conservation and the people who enjoyed being outside.

I have been fortunate to meet and spend time with many knowledgeable and committed people. The job has been an education all by itself.

I've been able to visit beautiful woodlands, wetlands and prairies.

I've photographed rare species few people have seen.

And I've been around people who are expert hunters, and those who can really catch fish — big fish, too.

Mom always did marvel at my determination to go fishing again and again, even if I wasn't often successful.

I had to confess today, because even my kids are on to me. They used to be happy catching bluegills off the dock. But recently they have started to ask, "Can we catch some bigger fish some time?"

"Sure," I say, even though my brain is saying, "Probably not."

If you see me this summer with a rod in my hand, and I'm trying to get the line untangled from a tree branch overhead, stop and say, hi.

And ask me if I've taken any good pictures lately.